By the middle of the eighteenth century, the Mughal Empire declined, while the Marathas got a chance to rise in power. Peshwa Bajirao I (1720-40) was considered to be the greatest of all Peshwas. To manage the rapidly expanding power of the Marathas, he started the confederacy of prominent Maratha chiefs. After the death of Bajirao I in 1740, his son Balaji Baji Rao became the Peshwa from 1740 to 1761. The confederacy also worked cordially till 1761.
However, the Third Battle of Panipat of 1761 changed everything. Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao died in 1761 after his defeat at the Third Battle of Panipat. His son Madhavrao I succeeded him as the next Peshwa. He was able to recover some of the territories and Maratha’s power after the defeat at Panipat. However, Madhavrao I also died in 1772. The defeat at the third battle of Panipat and later death of young Peshwa Madhavrao I weakened the control of the Peshwa over the confederacy. This leads to the entry of Britishers into Maratha Politics.
The years between the late 18th century and early 19th century witnessed the clashing of Marathas and Britishers. During this period, three Anglo-Maratha wars were fought between the Maratha and British East India Company.
First Anglo-Maratha War (1775 – 1782)
After Madhavrao I died in 1772, his brother Narayan Rao succeeded him as the next Peshwa. But, Narayan Rao was killed by his uncle Raghunath Rao in 1773. Although Raghunath Rao was not a legal heir, he named himself to be next Peshwa.
However, Gangabai, the widow of Narayan Rao, gave birth to a son after his husband’s death. The new infant was named Sawai Madhav Rao, who was legally the next Peshwa. The twelve Maratha Chiefs, under Nana Phadnavis, named Sawai Madhav Rao as new Peshwa and decided to rule for him as regents.
Treaty of Surat, 1775
Raghunath Rao was unwilling to give up his position in power. So, he sought help from Britishers in Bombay. In 1775, Raghunath Rao signed the Treaty of Surat, under which he ceded the territories of Salsette and Bassein to the Britishers. In return, the British provided 2500 soldiers to Raghunath Rao. However, the British Calcutta Council under Governor-General Warren Hastings condemned this treaty, sent Colonel Upton to Pune to annul the treaty of Surat, and make a new treaty with the regency.
Treaty of Purandar, 1776
After the British Calcutta Council annulled the treaty of Surat, a new treaty of Purander was signed with the regency under Nana Phadnavis in 1776, renouncing the Raghunath Rao. Under this new treaty, Raghunath Rao was given a pension only, and the territories of Salsette & Bassein retain by the Britishers. However, the Bombay government rejected this new treaty and gave shelter to the Raghunath Rao.
Battle of Wadgaon, 1799
In 1777, Nana Phadnavis violated his treaty of Purander with the Calcutta Council by granting a port to the French on the west coast. This led the Britishers to advance forces towards Pune.
The British and Maratha armies met at the outskirts of Pune. Maratha army led by Mahadji Shinde had a large number of soldiers than in the British army. Marathas forced the British army to retreat to the village of Wadgaon near Pune, where they surrounded the British army from all sides and cut off food & water supplies. The British army finally surrendered in January 1799. The Treaty of Wadgaon was signed, under which the Britishers had to relinquish all the territories acquired by the British East India Company since 1775.
Treaty of Salbai, 1782
Governor-General Warren Hastings rejected the treaty of Wadgaon. He sent a large British army under Colonel Goddard, who took control of Ahmedabad in 1779 and captured Bassein in 1780. Another Bengal detachment of the British army under Captain Popham captured the Gwalior in 1780.
In February 1781, Mahadji Shinde was finally defeated by the British army under General Camac at Sipri. Mahadji Shinde proposed a new treaty between the British and Peshwa. In May 1782, the Treaty of Salbai was signed, ratified by Warren Hastings in June 1782. The treaty guaranteed peace between the two sides for 20 years. The main provisions of the treaty of Salbai were as follow:
- Salette should continue to be retained with the Britishers.
- All Territories conquered by Britishers after the treaty of Purandhar (1766) should restore to the Marathas.
- The British should accept Madhav Rao II (son of Narayan Rao) as the Peshwa.
- Peshwa should not support any of the other European nations.
- British should not offer any further support to Raghunath Rao. The Peshwa would grant him the maintenance allowance.
- By the treaty of Salbai, the British were also able to restore their territories from Hyder Ali of Mysore with the help of Marathas.
Second Anglo-Maratha War (1803-1805)
After the annexation of Mysore by the British in 1799, the Marathas were the only major power left outside the British domination in India. At that time, Maratha Confederation consists of five prominent chiefs: Peshwa at Poona, Gaekwads of Baroda, Bhonsles at Nagpur, Holkars at Indore, and Scindias at Gwalior.
The Second Anglo-Maratha War began in similar circumstances to those of the First Anglo-Maratha War. After the death of Peshwa Madhav Rao II in 1795, Bajorao II (the son of Raghunath Rao) became the Peshwa. Nana Phadnavis, who was a bitter foe of Bajorao II, became the chief minister. The dissension among the Marathas gave an opportunity to the Britishers to intervene in Maratha affairs. The death of Nana Phadnavis in 1800 added as an advantage to the Britishers.
Battle of Poona, 1802
In April 1801, Peshwa Bajirao II brutally murdered the brother of Yashwantrao Holkar of Indore. Yashwantrao Holkar, the ruler of Indore, furiously advanced his forces against the combined armies of Bajirao II and Scindias. In October 1802, Yashwantrao defeated the armies of Peshwa and Scindias at Hadapsar near Poona.
Treaty of Bassein, 1802
After the defeat at the Battle of Poona, Bajirao II fled to Bassein for British Protection. On 31 December 1802, he signed the treaty of Bassein with the British East India Company as a subsidiary alliance. Under this treaty, the Peshwa agreed:
- For the company’s native infantry of around 6000 troops to be permanently stationed with the Peshwa.
- To surrender the Surat city.
- To cede the territories yielding the income of Rs 26 lakh to the company.
- To accept to Company’s arbitration in all differences between him and Nizam of Gaekwad.
- To give up the claims for chauth on Nizam’s Dominions.
- To not enter into any treaty without the permission of the British.
The treaty of Bassein proved to be a great political advantage to the British. It was an important milestone for the British to establish their supremacy in India.
Treaty of Deogaon, 1803
The Scindias and Bhonsles did not accept the treaty of Bassein in an attempt to save the Maratha’s independence. This caused the Second Anglo-Maratha War in 1803 in central India. The British army under Arthur Wellesley defeated combined armies of Scindias and Bhonsles in the Battle of Assaye in September 1803 and the Battle of Argoan in November 1803. They were forced to enter into subsidiary treaties with the British.
On 17 December 1803, the treaty of Deogaon was signed between the Raghuji Bhonsle II and the British East India Company. As per the treaty, Bhonsle accepted the subsidiary alliance with the British and agreed to cede the Cuttack province, Balasore port, and territory west of Warda river to the East India Company.
Treaty of Surji Arjunagaon, 1803
The British defeated the army of Scindias in the Battle of Aligarh and finally at the Battle of Laswari. On 30 December 1803, the treaty of Surji Arjunagaon was concluded between the Daulat Scindia and the British.
Treaty of Rajpurghat, 1805
After the treaty of Deogaon and Surji Arjunagaon, Holkars of Indore remained at war with the British. In 1804, Yaswantrao Holkar tried to form a coalition of Indian rulers but remains unsuccessful. The Marathas were defeated. On 24 December 1805, the Treaty of Rajpurghat (or Rajghat) was concluded between the Yaswantrao Holkar and the British East India Company. Under the treaty, Holkar gave up the Tonk, Rampura, and Bundi to the British.
With the Treaty of Rahpurghat, the Second Anglo-Maratha War came to an end. Marathas lost their vast and rich territories to the Britishers.
Third Anglo-Maratha War (1817-1819)
After the Second Anglo-Maratha War, the Marathas became weak. In 1813, Lord Marquees of Hastings was appointed as the Governor-General. Lord Hastings determined to proclaim the British Paramountcy in India.
The chief reason for the Third Anglo-Maratha War ( or Pindari War) was the conflict between the Pindaris and the British. The Pindaris were mercenaries connected to the Maratha armies. When the Marathas became weak due to the Second Anglo-Maratha war, Pindaris could not get regular employment. As a result, Pindaris started plundering the neighboring territories, including those of the Company.
The British suspected the Marathas of providing shelter to Pindaris. The Company troops invaded the Maratha territory in the course of operation against the Pindaris. Pindari leaders like Amir Khan and Karim Khan surrendered, while Chitu Khan fled into the jungles.
Course of War
The actions taken by Lord Hastings against the Pindaris were seen as the transgression of Maratha’s sovereignty. In 1817, Marathas made one last attempt to unite the Maratha Confederacy against the British. Peshwa Bajirao II of Poona, Malharrao Holkar III of Indore, and Mudhoji II Bhosle of Nagpur united the force and rose against the British East India Company. The fourth major Maratha Chief, Daulat Rao Shinde of Gwalior, was pressured and convinced diplomatically to remain neutral and stay away.
Peshwa forces attacked the British Residency at Poona, Appa Sahib of Nagpur attacked the British Residency at Nagpur, and the Holkar made preparations for the War. However, the British defeated the Peshwa in the battle of Khirki, Bhonsle in battle at Sitabuldi, and Holkar in the battle of Mahidpur.
Treaty of Poona, 1817
In June 1817, Peshwa Bajirao II signed the treaty of Poona with the British East India Company. Under the treaty, the British gain control over the territory north of the Narmada River and south of the Tungabhadra river.
Treaty of Gwalior, 1817
In November 1817, Lord Hastings concluded the Treaty of Gwalior with Daulat Rao Sindhia, even though he had not been involved in the war. As per the treaty, both the parties deploy their forces in operation against the Pindaris.
Treaty of Mandsaur, 1818
After the defeat in the battle of Mahidpur, Malharrao Holkar signed the treaty of Mandsaur with the British. Holkar accepted the terms under the treaty and lost much of their territories to the British.
On 3 June 1818, Peshwa Bajirao II finally surrendered and became a British retainer at a small estate in Bithur near Kanpur. Most of Peshwa’s territories became part of the Bombay Presidency. A small kingdom of Satara was founded out of the Peshwa’s dominions. Partap Singh, the lineal descendant of Chatrapati Shivaji, was made the ruler of Satara.
After the surrender of all Maratha powers, the British became the supreme paramount power in India.